Tory MP calls for law update to protect children from grooming and exploitation

A Tory MP has raised concerns over the handling of child sexual exploitation cases claiming in some instances the “police don’t fully understand grooming and the power that a perpetrator can exert”.

Lucy Allan, the MP for Telford, questioned whether current law was protecting children and young people from grooming and exploitation.

Speaking during her Westminster Hall debate on child sexual exploitation and consent to sexual intercourse, Ms Allan said: “We cannot just go on wringing our hands and saying as each case comes to light how horrific it is.

“If the law does not protect our children from being groomed and being targeted for sex then we must update the law.”

Grooming, Ms Allan (pictured) said was a process of psychological manipulation to force a vulnerable child to do something they did not want to do.

Addressing the minister, she asked whether it was time to “update both guidance to the police but also perhaps the Sexual Offences Act 2003 particularly when it comes to a definition of consent”.

It was essential, she argued, the police actively looked for evidence of grooming that they could then pass onto the CPS.

She said: “Any one listening to this debate will be astonished as I was to learn that a child as young as 13 can be targeted and groomed for sex with multiple men and the men can say to the police by way of defence, ‘I had no reason to believe that she did not consent, I had no reason to believe that she was under 16’.

“And unless the victim can show otherwise, the police may not in such circumstances have the perpetrator charged with any offence at all.

“Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 specifically that under age sex is an offence and consent should not be a factor, but what we see in practice is the police can take a different approach and this suggests that the police don’t fully understand grooming and the power that a perpetrator can exert over a victim that has been groomed.

“And a child who is groomed into acquiescence is not willingly and voluntarily consenting to sex, but they may not get justice unless they can show they made the perpetrators aware that they were unwilling and they made the perpetrators aware of their age.”

Solicitor General Robert Buckland spoke of the importance of safeguarding.

He said: “I think underlying some of the issues that she has raised is perhaps a failure at times by respective agencies and their representatives to understand that safeguarding has to come first and therefore the point of view of the child, of the victim is the paramount position to be in.

“Can I assure her that the old chestnut of saying ‘I didn’t know her age, she didn’t tell me her age’ is not something that frankly means the police and prosecution are suddenly discharged of any responsibility to bring the case.”

It was important, he said, to send a message that young people knew if they came forward they would be taken seriously.

He added: “The idea that somehow at all times the burden should be on the child in order to prove their position is not a correct perception.

“It’s clear to me that we’ve moved a million light years from a position where perpetrators can get away with these things with impunity.”

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